Cemetery Markers and Clean Up

Cemetery Markers and Clean Up

     With the beginning of Fall many are now venturing into family cemeteries to reclaim space taken over by brush and snakes. We have received several letters asking for advice and guidance on where to get information and who can help. We have compiled a few facts and sites below to help with that information. We pass it on in hopes to help others as they strive to maintain the family plots.

     The number 1 cardinal rule has to be to check out who is taking your money and what services can be expected and a time frame. There are unfortunately many scammers who like to prey on the family who can not maintain a grave and is not likely to see the result.

     If the company, group, or organization claims to be a non-profit group, ask to see proper documentation. All groups claiming to be non-profit are given a proper IRS ID number that must be shown when asked. If they can not or will not provide documentation do not deal with them. This may be a scam. This comes from an unfortunate personal experience. I am now a few hundred dollars and many suppliers wiser. A check with the IRS did prove that no non-profit status was applied for. Tho retribution has been promised none as of yet has been forthcoming. Remember, the most sincere seeming people can be scam artists. That is how they get over.

Investigate and require documentation. Ask if they are insured should they get hurt on private property or damage anything in the site.

The government does provide stones for veterans. This includes replacement stones also!!!!


Also your funeral director will know if there is a stipend in your county. Payments from county to county will vary. Another great source of information on this would be the service officer at your local veteran organization. VVA, VFW, American Legion, DAV etc.

The Burial and Memorial Site for the VA is:


New legislation that would insure that any veteran regardless if grave is marked or not should be able to get a headstone or marker from VA:


Burial Expenses. You have up to 2 years to claim a burial allowance.

FYI Military funerals are now provided for any veteran who was honorably discharged.


Upon the family's request, the law requires that every eligible veteran receive a military funeral honors ceremony to include folding and presenting the United States burial flag and the playing of Taps. The law defines a military funeral honors detail as consisting of two or more uniformed military persons with at least one a member of the veteran's parent service of the Armed Forces. The DOD program calls for funeral home directors to request military funeral honors on behalf of the veterans' family. Veterans organizations may assist in the provision of military funeral honors. When military funeral honors at a national cemetery are desired, they are arranged prior to the committal service by the funeral home.

Questions or comments concerning the DOD military funeral honors program may be sent to the address listed below. A military funeral honors web site is located at www.militaryfuneralhonors.osd.mil.

Another great site for info on grave preservation is:


Part of their mission statement reads:

"Saving Graves is strongly committed to the protection of human burial sites from unauthorized and unwarranted disturbance, by man or nature. We believe that the willful desecration or destruction of human burial sites is unacceptable in a civilized society. It is our objective to highlight their importance and promote an attitude or reverence and respect, while encouraging further preservation of these unique historical resources. We are not asking private land owners to do anything for the maintenance of the cemetery, nor are we suggesting unrestricted access to their private land. We are only asking private property owners to allow access at 'reasonable times' to legitimate groups to do the repairs and upkeep that is necessary, and to allow descendants and other interested parties the opportunity to visit the graves."

They do have a search engine. When we put in KY, many results were returned. One of the most interesting was an obit for William Andrew Spurlock from Allen Co. from 1913. Many other records are included here.

Kentucky does have their own link at this site also. Here you will find pending legislation and facts on burial in Ky.

Endangered Ky cemeteries are listed here also.

Cleaning headstones. I had this page saved but it no longer seems to be on the web so please forgive that I give it to you in its entirety.



Dan Maxson

Cleaning and reading tombstones is possibly the most controversial topic in our field of genealogy. With this article, the author hopes to shed some light on the topic and allow the reader to determine some does and don’ts based on some evidence from both geology and chemistry.  According to the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Rocks and Minerals, granite, the most common material for modern tomb stones, has an average hardness of 6.5. Quartz, which makes up about 35% of granite, has a hardness of 7.0. Feldspar, which makes up about 45% of quartz, has a hardness of 6.0. The remainder of granite can be any of several minerals. Marble, another tombstone material, has a hardness of 3.0. Sandstone is made up of quartz granules (sand) and a cementing agent calcite, or iron minerals. Calcite has a hardness of 3.0 and the iron minerals have a hardness of 4-6.  The hardness of steel is generally considered to be about 6.5, but can vary with composition and temper. A knife blade has a hardness of 5.5-6, while a file has a hardness of seven. A copper penny has a hardness of three. Any higher numbered hardness would scratch any lower numbered hardness. Slate is softer than a knife blade. From this, it can be seen that quartz would scratch the steel, but that feldspar would be scratched by a saw blade or a file. Therefore, in my opinion, items such as knives, saws, wire brushes, or car keys should never be used to clean a tombstone. Rubbing a penny on a soft sandstone could damage the stone, or would leave an ugly streak on it.

For cleaning, I suggest water and the use of a bristle brush. This will do minimal if any damage to the much harder stone. True, if you work on stone long enough with a bristle brush, you might shine the stone a very small amount by the time you completely wear the brush out. The removal of the lichen is a great way to help preserve the stone -- they chemically and physically damage the stone.  Many different things have been suggested for making the tombstone easier to read. One individual rubs the stone with fresh dirt. The sand in the dirt would scratch any of the stones. Another person uses chalk. Those of you in the more mature age groups can remember scratches on the slate blackboards from impurities in the chalk. Some have advocated the use of dream whip. This author can think of no substance in Dream Whip that would harm the stone. Many people have objected to the use of shaving crème, which is what I use.  I cannot find any possible way that shaving creme can damage a stone. You men have used it and know that it does not contain abrasives that will damage your skin; so, it will not wear the stone away. The big objection that I have heard is that shaving creme is acid and will eat the stone away. If you read the label, you will note that it does contain stearic acid.

The true acidity of any substance can be determined by measuring the H ion concentration in the substance. This is also known as pH. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14, with 7.0 being neutral, less than 7.0 is acid, and more than 7.0 is basic. The cases that I am aware of, shaving creme ranged between 7.0 and 7.5 in pH. This says that there are no free H ions to react as an acid in shaving creme. Stearic acid is a long chain fatty acid. It is quite common in beef fat, but is in the triglyceride form. There are 18 carbons in the chain making up the acid. Stearic acid is nearly insoluble in water and is quite unreactive, except with heat, a catalyst, or with strong bases such as sodium hydroxide (lye).  The technique that I suggest using shaving crème is:

Clean the stone.

Apply a bead of shaving crème at the bottom of the lettering.

Wipe the crème upward with stiff cardboard.

Wipe the excess crème off with a squeegee.

Read and/or photograph the stone.

Rinse the stone off with water.

The main reason that I rinse the stone is for esthetic reasons. People will feel better about it. If you leave the shaving crème, the next rain will wash it off and it will help neutralize the acid rain or soil to a small degree. I use a pump up garden sprayer for rinsing the stones.  If you are on a genealogy trip, I would also suggest that you may want to carry a pair of pruning shears to remove brush that may be growing near a stone. If a stone has sunken into the ground, I cut the sod back from the stone with a pocket knife and remove the sod by hand to prevent damaging the stone with the knife. Some of you might also want a pair of gardening gloves.

It is hoped that the above information will help you make a wise choice in your method of cleaning and reading tombstones. Above all, please do not use any abrasive materials such as steel or rocks on the stone. The rest is your choice. Neither the author nor EMGS is advising you to use this method, just make a wise choice. Personally I would check with any accredited stone mason for guidance.

Another page on this subject is from the Association of Gravestone Studies:


Many great links here also.

We hope that this covers most of the questions that may arise regarding the cemetery, burials and who, when and where. If you have any other questions we  would be more than happy to help find the answer. Can not  promise it will be 100% but will try <g>


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